| 17.5°C Dublin

Rock triumph buoys bookies

Bookmakers were dancing to Rock On Ruby's tune after Paul Nicholls' runner upset hotpot Hurricane Fly in the Stan James Champion Hurdle.

With the other two 'bankers' of the day Sprinter Sacre and Quevega both obliging, Rock On Ruby saved the layers from heavy losses on the opening day of the 2012 Cheltenham Festival.

The bookmakers feared the worst when Sprinter Sacre trotted up in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy, with one Ladbrokes client collecting £100,000 in winnings for his £110,000 outlay at odds of 10-11 on Nicky Henderson's exciting prospect, whose starting price was 8-11.

That success prompted a flood of cash for Hurricane Fly in the day's biggest race, but the defending champion could only finish third behind the 11-1 winner.

Ladbrokes' David Williams said: "We half expected to see Steve McQueen leading Rock On Ruby into the winner's enclosure.

"It really was the Great Escape after Sprinter Sacre's costly win."

Balthazar King landed a gamble in the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase over the cross-country course as Philip Hobbs' horse was returned the 11-2 winner from a morning show of 12-1, before Quevega made it four wins in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle at 4-7.

"We'll head into the second day with honours even," Williams went on. "Quevega and Balthazar King helped to sugar the pill for Hurricane Fly fans."

Coral also hailed Rock On Ruby's triumph. "We feared the worst when Sprinter Sacre cruised home, but Rock On Ruby's win was a huge relief, and knocked out plenty of accumulators," said Coral's David Stevens.

"Alfie Sherrin was well-backed and Quevega rewarded favourite backers so it's all to play for after day one. It was a similar story from other layers."

Betfred's George Primarolo said: "We're just about in front after the first day despite two of the three bankers coming in.

"We can't stress just how much of a result it was getting Hurricane Fly beaten in the Champion Hurdle and his defeat means the bookies have their noses in front after the first day."

Kate Miller, spokeswoman for William Hill, said: "It's probably a score draw between the bookies and punters.

"The victories of Sprinter Sacre and Quevega counted against us, but Hurricane Fly's defeat literally saved our Festival.

"We're delighted with business levels though, with no signs of austerity hitting racing's National Hunt Mecca."

Rory Jiwani of StanJames.com said: "We were looking at a £1million liability if Hurricane Fly retained his crown so we're indebted to Rock On Ruby."

Victor Chandler feel they were lucky to get away without heavier losses, and spokesman Charlie McCann said: "We are not convinced 'The Fly' was at his best and take the Willie Mullins star to reverse the form next year."

Paddy Power refunded £2million in losing bets placed on the Arkle Trophy after pledging to give punters their money back if favourite Sprinter Sacre won.